tv [untitled] April 29, 2012 6:00pm-6:30pm EDT
>> well, i think luce had a vision of justifying journalism in his time by thinking of his own company. i think if we think about today, i don't think there is any one person or one institution that justifies journalism in our time. but i think journalism is certainly justified in our time. what i wanted to say at the end here, first of all, is to thank everybody for participating in this event. but also to just say a word about the connection between journalism and history. and i think this panel -- everyone on this panel in one way or another -- has a foot in both of these sides. everybody on this panel is in some ways connected to journalism as well as being
historians. and i think there are great historians who were not academic scholars. and i think, you know, we would be impoverished if that were not the case. on the other hand, there is a lot of journalistic history that is ridiculous. bill o'reilly's book on lincoln which is the number one best seller. at least the last time i saw. and it's ridiculous. it's as ridiculous as glenn beck actually, almost. of course, there are also journalists who write terrible history as well. i think the connection between journalism and history strengthens both things and i
really appreciate all of the people who came today and our colleagues here on the panel. thank you. >> we talked a lot about consensus today. please join me in expressing consensus of appreciation to alan and our panelists. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. next, william fowler on his book "american crisis, george washington and the dangerous two years after yorktown 1781-1783"
he details washington's struggles as he dealt with ineffective congress and continental army on the verge of mutiny. the 50-minute event was hosted by the social law library in boston. >> can i ask you to take your seats, please? welcome to the social law library. my name is robert brink and i'm the executive director. we're honored to have all of you and also delighted to welcome back william fowler, who will talk about his new book "an
american crisis, georgia washington and the dangerous two years." let me first ask you to silence your cell phones. let me also invite you to stay for a reception and book signing following professor fowler's talk. and in that connection, i want thank one of the great independent bookstores, porter square books, for coming over to cambridge whenever authors appear at the social library. so thank you very much. i also want to thank the william m. wood foundation and its trustee, the bank of america. william wood was a distinguished and grateful lawyer who relied on the library throughout his career. charitable funds from his memorial foundation underwrite all of the library's conferences and author series. tonight's speaker is william m. fowler jr., distinguished professor of history at northeastern university and the
long time president of the new england quarterly. he's the author of a number of highly-regarded books, contributions to scholarly publications, and articles in the popular media. many of which concentrate on aspects of the american revolution, its military and political history, and the people of that era, both the famous and the obscure. the list of publications in professor fowler's cv is long so i can't list them all, but here are two popular books that everyday readers might well remember. "samuel adams" and "the baron of beacon hill." the last time he was at the library was in 2005. at the time he was the director of the massachusetts historical society and he joined gordon
wood and me in a fascinating and fun discussion celebrating the 225th anniversary of the massachusetts constitution of 1780. the story line of bill's newest book starts just a year later in 1781. there's an interesting bridge between the adoption of our massachusetts constitution of 1780 and bill's book that describes the uncertain war years that followed. i duck out a very interesting letter dated november 12, 1780. it was from soldiers encamped with george washington in new jersey. the letters about the soldiers' view of the new massachusetts constitution and the war. in part, the letter to the massachusetts legislature reads
"the undersigned officers of the troops of massachusetts, in our own names and the names of our brethren in the field, declare that we highly respect and approve the new constitution of the commonwealth of massachusetts." it goes on with paragraphs of praise and then it predicts, it says, "we formed the most austicious omens of prosperity." those omens came to. the constitution served as probably the most important model to the federal constitution and today it's the oldest constitution in the western world. and i think in the entire world for that matter. but the letter from these soldiers turned from praise to plea. the soldiers reminded the legislature that they were still at war and the liberties promised in the new constitution of 1780 would be meaningless without support for the troops who were fighting for our freedoms. if only the legislatures of the respective states will vigorously carry into immediate effect the resolutions of congress, the enemy will be
deprived of their hope of conquest. it seems clear, the soldiers in the field with washington knew that the fight for independence was far from over and that our new constitutional freedoms were still in jeopardy. they knew of the american crisis facing george washington in the war effort. let me now welcome back bill fowler, who will pick up the storyline and tell you the dangerous two years after yorktown, 1781-1783. bill? [ applause ] >> thank you, bob. very kind and flattering remarks. a few moments ago bob asked what i would like him to say about me when he introduced me and i simply told him he ought not to hesitate to exaggerate. thank you at same time i must caution you sometimes we're raised up to be let low.
this is the season of course and student teacher evaluations and i was just reading mine this morning. it was pretty good. good, good, good. and then i came to one, a student decided to make a comment. the student described the comment. he said if i only had two hours left on earth, i'd want to spend them in professor fowler's class. and then i turned the page. and he continued. he said because professor fowler's class goes on for eternity. so one must always be cautious. on the morning of january the 6th, 1783, the doors of the continental congress in philadelphia opened to admit three senior officers of the continental army. then encamped at newburgh, new
york. the officers were general alexander mcdougal from new york, colonel mathias ogden from new jersey and colonel john brooks from massachusetts. these three officers arrived in the congress to announce to the members that the army at newburgh, the american army, was on the verge of mutiny. how could this have happened? after almost eight years of war, with victories so close in sight, all was now in peril of being lost. we often think of course the american revolution ended october 1781, yorktown. with the surrender of general cornwallis to the franco american force under the command of washington. that was not the case. for even with the surrender of yorktown, the british army still occupied new york, savannah, georgia, charleston, south
carolina, wilmington, north carolina, and a good portion of maine. and the navy, while it had been defeated at the battle of the capes during the yorktown campaign, their navy was still supreme. their navy was still mistress of the ocean. the british had hardly been beaten. no one understood this better than the commander in chief himself, general washington. he was fearful that the news and victory at yorktown would in fact diminish the american effort. shortly after the battle, he wrote to governor william nelson, the governor of virginia, he told governor nelson, quote, instead of exciting our exertions the victory at yorktown will produce such a relaxation the prosecution of the war as will prolong the calamities of it. he then wrote a few days later,
to general nathaniel green, the american commander in the south, he told general green, my greatest fear is that congress may think our work closed and will fall into a state of langer and relaxation. following those letters, washington made a brief visit home to mt. vernon, only by the way, the second time in eight years that he had been home. after a brief visit he and martha left mt. vernon and journeyed to philadelphia, where they planned to spend the winter of 1781-'82. in the meantime, the american army having taken care of lord cornwallis's army began their march to their winter quarters which they would take up on the
hudson valley north of new york city at a place they could watch the british army. washington arrived in philadelphia to great acclaim, parades, fireworks, endless banquets and toasts. they even wrote an opera in his honor. he went fox hunting and indeed was having a wonderful social time in philadelphia. but not political. he did not attend the sessions of congress. that would have been improper. for the commander in chief to attend congress. but every monday night he, robert morris, the financier, as he was called, the equivalent of our secretary of the treasury, governor morris, no relation to robert but an important figure in the congress, alexander hamilton, james madison, and perhaps a few others, met for dinner.
it was at these dinners that these men discussed what had happened in the congress that day, usually very little. they discussed the fact that the nation was bankrupt, congress was paralyzed, and the army had not been paid. what to do? what to do? these men formed the core of the kind of shifting political alliance in the congress of men who were nationalists. these were men who saw america as a great nation but only if it had a more powerful, central government. that, of course, was not the general sentiment in the congress itself. the congress was very much mindful of states' rights, parochial and particular. as the months wore on through the winter, washington and martha enjoyed themselves but virtually nothing got accomplished. nothing politically. in the meantime, the army was there in the hudson valley unpaid, waiting. everyone knew sort of that the war was coming to an end. it wasn't certain but there were rumors, even though hard information was not forthcoming from paris, when negotiations were under way, there were rumor
that things were finally going to end. but no sure sign of it yet. washington finally in march 1782 presented himself to the congress and asked their permission to leave. he was to rejoin his army. they summoned him to meet before them and they told him, quote, we have nothing particular to give you and have appointed this audience only to assure you of our esteem and confidence, and to wish you happiness and success. happiness and success was all that he carried north, back to the army. there, at the encampment, just north of the city, the american
army was busy watching the british. the british in new york were under the command of general sir guy carleton, and general carleton had recent lay arrived. he was his majesty's commander in chief, instructs to take no offensive action against the americans. indeed, to prepare for evacuation. at the same time, while washington was watching now carleton, there arrived the french. the french army under the general spent the winter in virginia, near the yorktown battlefield. come the spring it was time to move though the french army was coming north to come here to boston to depart for the west indies. the french were leaving america. there was a grand ceremony at the american encampment, troops passed in review, they reviewed each other's armies and bade farewell.
the americans were very much on their own. as was in the midst of this that general washington received an extraordinary letter from colonel nicola, the commander of the regiment of invalids. these were men who through injury and combat or disease or some other infirmity were unable to serve in the line but were perfectly able to do god duty, garrison duty, support duty. colonel nicola, the commander of this regiment, saw firsthand d garrison duty, support duty. colonel nicola, the commander of this regiment, saw firsthand du garrison duty, support duty. colonel nicola, the commander of this regiment, saw firsthanad d garrison duty, support duty. colonel nicola, the commander of this regiment, saw firsthanrd d, garrison duty, support duty. colonel nicola, the commander of this regiment, saw fir every single day the cost of war in the faces and disabilities of his men. his men had not been paid either. he wrote to general washington, when this war is over, we who have borne the heat and labor of the day will be forgot and neglected. the army will not submit to this grave injustice. from several conversations i have had with officers, i believe it is generally intended not to separate after the peace
till all grievances are redressed, engagements and promises fulfilled. this war must have shown to all but to military men in particular, the weakness of republics. washington was stunned at the letter. ordinarily when the commander in chief received a communication from one of his subordinates he would certainly reply but the rely would come within a few days or perhaps a week, perhaps longer. washington replied to nicola's letter the very same day. he wrote to the colonel, i have read your letter with a mixture of surprise and astonishment. no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army. he then said, we will solve our difficulties in a constitutional
way. well, of course, colonel nicola quickly ran for cover and there were several more letters to the general apologizing for his statements but nonetheless the letter did in fact reflect the feelings of so many officers serving in the army. about two weeks later, after colonel nicola's letter, general washington received another communication, this one from major general james mitchell varnum. the general was from rhode island, he had been a major general in the continental army, then retired, and served in the congress. he was a man of great influence and prominence. general varnum wrote to his commander in chief. the congress is a baseless fabric. my fellow citizens are totally destitute of that love of
equality that is absolutely requisite to support a republic. only an absolute monarchy or a military state alone can save us from the horrors of subjugation. washington, interestingly enough, did not respond to general varnum. but all of this weighed heavily on his mind. and so he wrote to the secretary at war, benjamin lincoln, a massachusetts man. he told secretary at war lincoln, if these men who have spent the flower of their days in establishing the freedom and independence of their country are sent home without one farthing of money, great discontent will arise, the long sufferings of this army are almost exhausted. he then went on to tell secretary at war lincoln that he
was particularly concerned because the army was about to go into winter quarters, once again, 1782, 1783, and he knew that the despair of winter quarters. they had come through torturous times, in each of the winter encampments they had a prom is of a military campaign in the spring to secure american independence. there would be no campaign in the coming spring. how to keep these men together, how to prevent mutiny. in the midst of this, the officers of the army gathered. the regimental leaders, the staff of the army gathered. and without washington's permission, they did not seek it, they presented a memorial to him. they asked his permission to take this memorial to the
congress in philadelphia. washington was very uneasy about this. it was a violation of military protocol, it could be seen, of course, as a challenge to civilian authority. authority that he had always respected. but nonetheless, the situation was so grave that he feared if he refused permission for his officers to take this memorial to philadelphia, he would resent the consequences that would arise. the memorial began in asking the congress, quote, as the head and sovereign to hear our plea, we have borne all that men can bear in further experiments on our patients may have fatal effects.
this memorial was the one entrusted to colonels ogden, brookes and general mcdougal to deliver to the congress. the congress received the memorial, gave it to a committee, of course, and the committee then deliberated for weeks and weeks. in the meantime, those gentlemen i mentioned earlier, hamilton, madison, morris, and morris and lincoln, began to concoct a plan. they saw an opportunity here with the disgruntled army to use the army as a lever, as a threat against the states and the congress to force the states to give greater power to congress, to demand from congress their pay and the only way to get paid by the congress was if the states sent money and increased the power of the central government. and they began then to play this very dangerous game of using the
army. what these men feared most was peace. peace. because they knew that if peace came, the army would dissolve. they had not heard anything from our commissioners in paris, from mr. adams, mr. jay, mr. franklin, and later mr. lawrence, they didn't communicate with philadelphia. but the rumors were about, these men in congress knew they had to act quickly, before peace came. governor morris wrote to his friend, quote, not much for the interest of america that peace should be made at present. think about that. not much in our interests that peace should be made. it is in our interest that the war be prolonged. meanwhile, up at the camp in newburgh, the officers muttering
and murmuring, there arrived a new general. hess name horatio gates. gates was not a man much troubled by principle or loyalty. earlier in the war he had distinguished himself as the commander of the american army at the battle of saratoga, the great victor of saratoga, where he had defeated the general. what we sometimes forget about that year, 1777, called by the british the year of the hangman for the three 7s being gallows we forget in that same year that we were celebrating saratoga, the accomplishments of general gates, general washington retreated from brandy wine, germantown, and lost philadelphia. washington's reputation was sinking fast. and there were those in the congress, some of them among samuel adams who thought gates might make a better commander than general washington.
there were rumors, maybe not a plot, that's a little much, but certainly plans being made to replace gates, take him into washington's position and washington knew this, of course. later, general gates was given command of the army in the south, and there in the south general gates fought the battle of camden, one of the worst defeats the american army ever suffered. what made it even worse was when the smoke cleared from the battlefield at camden, general gates was not there. he had retreated about 50 miles to reorganize. he was replaced. general green took general gates' place in the south. gates was a disgrace. washington disliked him intensely. but gates was a powerful politician and he managed to get reinstated as the commander of the army at newburgh, without washington's consent. the congress simply appointed him, and sent him to newburgh telling general washington you may use him as you please. so general gates arrived to be the actual commander of the army, washington of course commander in chief.
but gates being the general in charge at the encampment. the men in the encampment, of course, bored, not much to do, about 7,000 soldiers. there, they began to build their huts at a place called new windsor, the new windsor encampment. they built about 700 wooden huts, neatly laid out for the winter encampment. and there they took up their quarters. what do you do with an army in this kind of situation? you drill and drill and then you drill some more, you build more huts, you build roads, you have to keep them busy, but it wasn't working very well. so chaplain evans decided let us build a temple of virtue. in the middle of the encampment the soldiers went to work to build a temple of virtue, a gathering place where the men might come on sundays for religious services and where during the week the administrative operation of the army took place. but clearly, all of this make
busy work was not doing much for morale, and washington remained deeply concerned about the murmurings that he heard in the army. in philadelphia, the congress decided, as certain members of the congress decided, to take action. pressed now, fearing that peace was coming, they decided to make their move. governor morris wrote to his good friend, general henry knox. a man from boston, the book seller from boston. knox had been with washington since the very first days of the war. he was washington's closest friend in the field. morris wrote to henry knox. he addressed his letter, my dear friend. he suggested that if knox would agree that general knox might lead the army to press the states.
he went on to say, to his friend, knox, the army may now influence the legislatures and if you will permit me a metaphor from your own profession, after you have carried the post, the public creditors will garrison it for you. while morris was given the assignment to write to general knox, knox at this time, the commander at west point, alexander hamilton was given the task to write to general washington. hamilton and washington had a tortured relationship. alexander hamilton arrived in america just before the revolution, timing is everything. went to college, became a lawyer, then the war broke out, joined the army, became a captain. distinguished himself. a fine soldier. came to the attention of general